I happened to be listening to a speech by Shoichi Nakagawa from August 2005, addressing the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ), just after Koizumi dissolved the cabinet and just before the LDP went on to win a crushing victory against the LDP rebels and the DPJ. The background to this is that, I recently started listening to the speechs of the big names from that tumultuous year, such as Watanuki and Kamei (who went on to start the Kokumin Shinto, with Kamei now being a powerful force in the new government), Okada and Kan (as they floundered trying to find a theme on which to run their campaigns, little did anyone guess they would be leading powerful figures in a new government in a few years), Koizumi and his former cabinet minister Hiranuma (perhaps the key battle between two politicians that year, as they were locked in mortal combat); and Abe (who at the time was the favored heir to the Koizumi throne, yet we all know that didn’t last).
Nakagawa was at the bottom of my list of people to listen to, because he wasn’t particularly important that year, and his career thereafter fizzled and failed. Less than a year ago, he resigned after appearing drunk at a speech in Italy — particularly reckless as it was as he signed an agreement with the IMF to lend them $100 billion in the largest single loan ever in history. He went on to lose reelection in 2009 in what was previously deemed a very safe seat, and dying under peculiar circumstances several weeks later. Many people in Nagatacho and in political circles that I associate appeared devastated, thinking it was a big loss, but I never understood the attraction of the man — my only memories of him from the past few years were of him looking exhausted and bleary. I thought he was another entitled hereditary politician, overrated and unimpressive — and it had been clear to all Nagatacho watchers for years that the man had a serious alcohol problem.
Yet listening to his speech from the campaign of 2005, I had a real change of heart. Nakagawa spoke clearly and concisely, showing the best side of a politician speech and a policy wonk. He loosened up the foreign press audience with a little English, an apology (how Japanese) and a joke (how American), then launched into politics and policy, speaking clearly and carefully on very complicated topics. Having just listened to the speeches of a handful of other politicians from that year, he definitely came across as the best, far more concise, intelligent and persuasive than all the other big names noted above. (Koizumi is, of course, always brilliant — but his collected speeches from that election campaign are just a collection of him sounding pissed off regarding the rejection of postal privatization.)
Note also his joke on neckties and longevity, which in retrospect, is grim. You can download and listen to the speech here, should you be so inclined.